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Reviews401 The Casefor a Humanistic Poetics, by Daniel R. Schwarz; xi & 215 pp. Philadelphia: University ofPennsylvania Press, 1990, $32.95 cloth, $16.95 paper. In the first two chapters of this book Daniel Schwarz sets out to defend a conception of criticism which represents what he takes to be the chief elements of the Anglo-American critical tradition. It is a combination, he says, of humanism and formalism, but it also accommodates the better influences from continental theories, "especially deconstruction" (p. 1). Schwarz spells out the basic assumptions of this approach and offers some arguments in its defense. In the second chapter the approach is clarified and a detailed reading of the Joyce short story "Araby" is offered as an example of the method in practice. Next there is a chapter on character and characterization in literature, followed by a discussion ofthe implications ofPaul de Man's activity as a Nazi collaborator for our assessment of his work as a theorist. (Schwarz suggests that de Man's version ofdeconstruction is a mechanism for repressing his fascist past.) Finally, there is a discussion of some recent books on a variety of themes in literary theory. This description of Schwarz's book will arouse the justified suspicion that it is neither a comprehensive investigation of a single theme (as its title suggests) nor a collection of independent essays. It begins as the former, then there are some independent pieces of more or less related interest, and, finally, thrown in for good measure, some book reviews. Despite respectful gestures towards continental influences, Schwarz's general position is conservative. It works within the following assumptions: (i) authors write to express their feelings and beliefs; (ii) it is possible for writing to describe the world (and not merely refer to other texts), and to convey meaning from author to reader; (iii) a work's expressive meaning is embodied in it, but also depends on authors' attitudes and the historical context of the writing; and (iv) the value of writing as literature depends direcdy on the value of what it expresses. I hope I am right in saying that no one these days is simply ignorant of the orthodoxies of postmodernism, so ideas like these no longer conjure the image of a Rip Van Winkle, but suggest, if anything, a refreshing open-mindedness towards what falls outside the consecrated relativisms and idealisms of recent literary theory. The time seems ripe for this to evoke widespread sympathy. Unfortunately, Schwarz's sympathizers will look in vain for new arguments for his sensible-sounding views. He repeatedly struggles with the idea that "there is nothing outside the text" (and therefore no reference to anything except other texts), but hopes to dislodge this doctrine with remarks like: "Does not our empirical reading experience call into question . . ." (p. 5) and "As Brother William puts it [in Eco's The Name ofthe Rose], ... A book is made up of signs that speak of other signs, which in their turn speak of things" (p. 7). Only the 402Philosophy and Literature already converted will be impressed by appeals to "empirical experience" and the names of fashionable authors. Against Culler's view that the "death of the author" doctrine should find favor with those who consider its theoretical advantages, Schwarz wonders, equally ineffectually, "if anyone who has tried to teach Ulysses without having read Joyce's prior work or Ellman's biography could subscribe to such a view" (p. 6). (The answer, of course, is yes, some could.) Confronted by the claim that all interpreters are simply the inventors of their own meanings, he sensibly points out (p. 13) the analogy of a botanist and a geologist differendy describing the same corner of nature, to suggest thatcontrasting descriptions ofthe same subject matter can be equally acceptable without being merely subjective. But instead of developing this thought, he tries to dispose ofhis opponents bysuch devices as the twelve rhetorical questions we find on pages 51—52 ("Doesn't an author encode a response?" "Do not texts produce effects in readers?" etc.). Reader-response theorists like Stanley Fish will have heard such questions before and answered them in their own creative way. University of Cape TownPaul Taylor Contingent...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 401-402
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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